Hundreds of Virginia Tech students gathered in the Graduate Life Center auditorium for the annual Take Back the Night Rally on March 31 before marching through campus and downtown Blacksburg. Attendees also included faculty and staff, members of the Blacksburg community and local officials.
Take Back the Night is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to end gender-based violence. Take Back the Night rallies are held in communities all over the world each year, where individuals gather together to march against sexual, relationship and domestic violence. According to Susan Anderson, the United Feminist Movement’s (UFM) faculty advisor and vice mayor of Blacksburg, this annual event came to Virginia Tech in 1990 and has taken place on campus each year since then, except 2020 and 2021 due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
The evening began with a rally indoors, which included speeches from UFM’s leadership and representatives of various local and campus initiatives. Survivors of gender-based violence then shared personal testimonies, and attendees participated in a moment of silence.
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith shared how she was impacted by hearing the stories of individuals who have been directly impacted by Take Back the Night’s cause.
“There is a lot of tenderness and bravery on display each year when this rally takes place,” Hager-Smith said. “I’m floored by the bravery it takes to get up there and talk. To get up and share this kind of trauma is very impressive, but it also brings it to life.”
Virginia Tech faculty and staff were also present on Thursday evening.
“Take Back the Night is a powerful opportunity and experience to hear the stories of survivors and community members who have been impacted by sexual or any form of gender-based violence,” said Byron Hughes, the dean of students. “I appreciate what they do for our community, and I hope that we can do more to support them.”
After the rally indoors, attendees lit hand-held candles and gathered outside. With survivors of gender-based violence leading, more than 100 individuals marched through Virginia Tech’s campus and downtown Blacksburg carrying signs holding messages and chanting together. One chorus heard repeatedly from the crowd was, “What do you want? Safe campus! When do you want it? Now!”
UFM’s larger goal in hosting the Take Back the Night Rally at Virginia Tech is to cause changes in policy at the university level and enact social change among students on campus, which they hope will ultimately end gender-based violence altogether. UFM has worked toward this goal for many years but feels there is still significant progress to be made.
“We know this is a really big issue among students, and we want to keep pressuring administration for transparency and accountability on this issue. UFM, for years, has been a consistent voice speaking out against the problem of gender-based violence and sexual violence on our campus,” said junior Carolina Bell, the president of UFM’s chapter at Virginia Tech.
Bell went on to talk about the impact she hopes will be made from Thursday evening’s rally and march.
“For tonight, I hope we’re able to create an environment that supports survivors, and (that) our community can come together — faculty, students, staff, community members of Blacksburg, and administrators — and say, 'We stand against gender-based violence, and we’re here to support the survivors and do better in our own community,'" Bell said.